Champagne is Wimbledon's antidote to day of showers

In the swirling wind and persistent rain, one finds one's entertainment at Wimbledon where one can. Some of it was unwittingly provided by the chief executive of the All-England Club, Chris Gorringe, whose periodic and portentous Tannoy announcements about the weather became increasingly Churchillian as the miserable day wore on. "We must remain optimistic," he said gravely, shortly after 1600 hours. It would have surprised nobody if he had added: "This is not the end of the rain, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning."

In the swirling wind and persistent rain, one finds one's entertainment at Wimbledon where one can. Some of it was unwittingly provided by the chief executive of the All-England Club, Chris Gorringe, whose periodic and portentous Tannoy announcements about the weather became increasingly Churchillian as the miserable day wore on. "We must remain optimistic," he said gravely, shortly after 1600 hours. It would have surprised nobody if he had added: "This is not the end of the rain, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning."

Maintaining the Churchillian theme, it was certainly true to say that never in the entire history of Hilary Strickland of Nashville, Tennessee, had so much been paid with so many credit cards for so little. Spending money is just about all there is do when it rains at Wimbledon, and by mid-afternoon Mrs Strickland had spent plenty, on a "pitcher" of Pimms, a cream tea, posters, postcards, T-shirts and a shot glass.

She and her mother - Marjorie Warren, from Asheville, North Carolina - had already paid $1,400 (£770) each for their four days' worth of Centre Court tickets. Not to mention whatever they had paid to stay at the Sheraton Park Tower, Knightsbridge. And yet Mrs Strickland, who was once on the tennis team at the University of Alabama, could not have been happier even as the rain plastered her blonde hair to her forehead. "We saw some wonderful tennis Monday and Tuesday [pronounced Toosday]," she said. "And everybody here is so kind and generous. It's my first time here and I'm having a great time... and we're coming back on Friday [Frahday]." No such luck for Elaine and Chris Whittington of Bedfordshire, whose special day, to celebrate Mrs Whittington's birthday, was such a washout. They had secured their Centre Court tickets through the ballot.

Yet that celebrated British leader with the morale-boosting speeches, Chris Gorringe, would have applauded their stoicism. They sat on a bench outside Centre Court defending themselves against the elements with a collapsible umbrella which, true to its name, kept collapsing. However, they declared themselves extremely contented with the three-course lunch they had just had in the Wingfield restaurant. They enjoyed a prawn and avocado starter, followed by chicken for Mrs Whittington and salmon for Mr Whittington, and cheesecake. With a bottle of Pouilly-Fume, the bill came to £90.

"But I don't think that's excessive for London," Mr Whittington said. He told me that stoicism runs in the family, that his father had a photograph of his cricket-loving grandfather sitting at an otherwise deserted Headingley, with the outfield under six inches of water, still hoping that he might see some play.

At Wimbledon the convention is that punters get a complete refund if there is less than an hour's play, and a half-refund if there is more than an hour's tennis but less than two hours. Londoners Jemma and Claire, huddling under an umbrella at a table outside the Pimm's and Champagne Bar, did not seem unduly concerned about the prospect of getting their money back. They had each booked the day off work, intended to enjoy themselves, and were doing just that. They had each had a glass of Pimm's (£3.85) before sharing a bottle of Champagne (a shameful £42 for a non-vintage Lanson), and insisted that things could be a great deal worse; they could be at the office.

Besides, the weather hadn't been as dreadful as the day they came last year, when they were caught in "a monsoon". But wasn't last year's weather pretty good? "Not the day we came." In future, I ventured, with the devil-may-care impertinence of a man getting extremely wet while talking to people quaffing Champagne under cover, people should perhaps check what day they had tickets for, and then arrange to come some other time. "Thanks," they said.

While Jemma and Claire disposed of large chunks of their income at the Pimm's and Champagne Bar, former workmates Sue Bryan from Bracknell and Jen Hawkins from Huntingdon showed that money does not have to be a prerequisite for dealing with a rainy Wimbledon. Like peasants outside the palace of Versailles, if they will forgive the analogy, they sat outside the Centre Court debenture-holders' lounge tucking into sandwiches that they had brought themselves.

Mrs Bryan had cheese and tomato sandwiches, and Mrs Hawkins had cheese and cucumber, with the rather racy addition of a piece of turkey with sage-and-onion stuffing. "They're a bit posh in Huntington," Mrs Bryan explained. They were not too disheartened by the weather, even though this was the only day for which they had tickets. "We haven't seen each other for a while," Mrs Hawkins told me, "so it's been nice to catch up on all the chatter."

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